“We don’t ask him to become a traitor. We offer him a new definition of loyalty.” And with a comment like that from a spy, you know you’re tucking into a John Le Carré novel.
His latest book, A Most Wanted Man, is set in present day Hamburg, Germany, where his characters are caught up in the establishment’s hysteria against Muslims.
Issa, a Muslim from Chechnya, has fled oppression and torture, and smuggled himself into Germany.
There he finds Annabel, a civil rights lawyer willing to help him build a future. The plan is to release funds that Issa’s brutal father has placed in a bank.
With the bank manager eager to hand over the money (and you don’t get many of them these days!) what could go wrong?
But the misnamed “intelligence” services are watching.
For all the trust and hope that Issa, Annabel and the banker Tommy Brue have built, the spies see sinister opportunities.
Le Carré weaves his plot and characters around the dominant political concerns of our time as he has done from his classic books set in the Cold War era through to a world where the US interests dominate.
His belief that “in the last eight years the United States has taken a series of disastrous turnings that will haunt us all for generations” inspired A Most Wanted Man.
The CIA representatives in it “indulge in their well-known appetite for shock and awe”, as he puts it.
Le Carré doesn’t line up his characters comfortably with the likeable good guys on one side and the evil spooks and spies on the other.
In this novel Issa is a prickly character, who frustrates the many people sympathising with him. But Le Carré’s great skill is to draw you into a story where people’s loyalties are torn as they struggle to deal with forces outside their control.
Put this book on your Xmas list and persuade a friend to read it too – you’ll want to talk about it with someone afterwards.
A Most Wanted Man
John Le Carré